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Hope is the Thing with Holes

I NEED A DONUT. I really, really, really need a donut.

In fact, I need an entire shop filled with cases of them to be erected within walking distance of my house. A shop that stays open late and on national holidays would be ideal, but hey, I’m willing to organize my work, socializing, and life around the hours of a truly fine donut-making establishment.

Whenever a business down the street or around the corner closes or moves, I hope, I pray, I imagine, I fantasize, I wish I wish I wish it would be replaced by a donut shop. Sadly for me, this never comes to pass. Instead, up pops another indie hair salon with a strangely conceived name hand-painted over the door (“Slice and Dice,” “We’re Hair for You,” “The World of Locks”) or yet another Pho noodle soup cafe, with which my neighborhood is over-blessed at the rate of about three per block. Pho is a remarkably nutritious soup and it would be better for my health and longevity to crave it than to long for deep-fried batter dipped in glucose, just as we should all admire the fine mind of Madeline Albright more than we do the hemlines of the Duchess of Cambridge. Alas, desire is rarely wise or politically correct. (I got a little nervous about referencing Madeline there, as her politics are not necessarily agreeable to all, but when I Googled “smartest woman in America,” the first two pages of hits were, bizarrely, Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter, so I’m sticking with Albright.)

Ah, donuts. I like them dusted with sugar and cinnamon, dipped in honeyed glazes, topped with coconut, crusty with nuts, iced with creamy frosting. I like them solo and by the dozen. I like them large and I like them wee, but I do not mistake the warm and doughy blobs in a paper sack at the State Fair for being true donuts at all (although I happily eat them, nonetheless).

I would not name my child “Raised Glazed” nor would I consider becoming an officer of the law for the coffee break accouterments alone, but if donuts were a team, I might wear their jersey — number “00”, of course. I have never met a donut I didn’t like, although I remain a bit suspicious of the chocolate ones with chocolate frosting, which seem to me to be cupcakes in drag. Other carbs may masquerade as donuts, but simply being round with a hole in your middle does not do the trick — else I would be satisfied with an onion bagel with my tea, and I assure you, I am not.

As vanilla ice cream is to a fine ice cream maker, the true test of a great donut chef is the simple cake donut, unglazed, unraised, and unadorned. As nude and defenseless as a newborn, it is a thing of beauty if it is weighty, dense, truly cakey, and emits the faintest sensory memory of nutmeg. Add white frosting — never pink, never yellow, never green — and sprinkles — not those round, flat, strange ones but the lozenge-shaped ones that resemble paramecium — and you’re looking at what I wish I was seeing at 7 a.m. when instead I am staring at a box of low-fat protein flakes. In the wee hours of the night, when I face the empty monitor screen on deadline, I do not crave chocolate, or caffeine, or crudités. I want a fresh cake donut. Maybe two.

Of course, Minneapolis is rich with wonderful bakeries and some of them serve up lovely donuts. I buy them, I eat them, I share them with friends. But from my home in Whittier, these places are too far for the quick dash that an emergency craving demands. What is needed here is a donut shop mere steps away, close enough to my front door to overcome any misplaced willpower that might rear its ugly head on a bike ride or a drive or a long, leisurely walk during which I have the time to weigh the relative merits of arterial blockage versus enhanced muscle mass.

Here’s a thought. Along with being the City of Lakes and the City of Bike Paths and the City of Other Hip Stuff, we could incentivize one donut shop per pocket neighborhood. Not only would this make me personally delighted, but would foster an atmosphere of cheerful camaraderie among all urban citizens, at least until the sugar highs wear off. We are, after all, a city originally built on flour.

This was published in the Southwest Journal August 8, 2011.

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